Waldlaw Blog

Monday, January 19, 2009

Kicking Off the Inauguration

Wow - what a day! We started at the Holocaust Museum this morning, which I had visited once before but never ceases to pack a punch. Getting in involved an hour of waiting outside in the cold - but it also gave us a feel for who's in DC this weekend. The family in front of us had flown in from Vancouver, WA because their eldest son's marching band is in the inaugural parade; behind us was a gospel group from Nashville; and a deaf tour group joined the mix after a while, whose exact role in the inaugural celebration I never figured out. Old and young, from every state, of every race and color, gay and straight, folks are flooding into DC to be part of this historic event. That, in and of itself, is exciting and historic! From the Holocaust Museum we went straight to the Mall, to participate in the inaugural kick-off concert. Unfortunately, we missed the Right Reverend Robinson's invocation, which came before the event truly started, but what a concert!!! High points included Mary Blige belting out Lean On Me, Garth Brooks killing American Pie, Stevie Wonder singing with Usher and Shakira, and U2. Oh, and Pete Seeger singing the original, uncensored version of This Land Is Your Land with Bruce Springsteen as back-up. What an extraordinary array of talent!! During This Land is Your Land, we were standing behind a young African American family (we kept moving the entire time, due to my son's determination to get close enough to actually see the performers on the stage, if only in a far-away-and-tiny kind of way). My friend Sue and my son and I were all singing along, and I looked up to see the little girl from this African-American family, on her dad's shoulders, singing along with us. The joy to all be there together, all singing together, was palpable, and will be with me for a long time. But here is what blew me away the most, looking back on the day: I was raised by peace activists, who took me to many of the big anti-Vietnam-War demonstrations. I was at the "Counter Inauguration" for Nixon in January 1969, which included a violent confrontation between protesters and police, and was back on the Mall in November of that same year for the National Mobilization to End the War. I attended huge marches in Boston and New York, including the 1982 anti-nuclear march in New York City where crowd estimates were close to 1 million. Today was not even close to the first time that I have shared a public space with hundreds of thousands of my closest friends. But today was completely different from any of those other experiences because today, the estimated 400,000 people crowding the Mall from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument were filled not with anger and frustration, but with hope and joy and an enormous sense of satisfaction. "Yes We Can" has become "Yes We Did," and folks are here to celebrate - and celebrate we did. It was by far the calmest, most peaceful assembly of hundreds of thousands of people I have ever seen or imagined. A pure joy, without a moment of concern for my safety or that of my son, full of shared smiles and appreciations, and an overwhelming sense of community. As I said, what a day!


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